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Mixed Messages in West Midlands

Despite Transport Secretary Alistair Darling having written to the West Midlands Multi-Modal Study (WMMMS) announcing that there would be a reduced funding pot of up to GBP1 billion for projects such as bus priority schemes and park-and-ride sites compared to WMMMS suggested GBP7.5 billion worth of improvements necessary to unblock the region's transport system thus all but vetoing future Midland Metro routes, members of the Birmingham Chamber of Commerce and Industry have backed a plan for an underground rail network in Birmingham.

Mr Darling indicated that given the cost of delivering light rail schemes, he considered that the scale of the WMMMS study's proposals for light rail extensions was unrealistic and although he was not ruling out further extensions, he considered that there should be a greater focus on lower cost bus based alternatives. The WMMMS had envisaged a network of ten lines but the passenger transport body Centro initially wanted just five more. Two routes - a Birmingham city centre extension and a line from Wednesbury to Brierley Hill - have been given provisional approval by the Government. The remaining three - from Birmingham city centre to Birmingham Airport and the NEC, from Great Barr to Bournbrook, and from Wolverhampton to Walsall - would be affected by this statement.

Despite this a feasibility study is currently being carried out into the underground scheme which Conservatives believe would cost £3 billion and help put an end to traffic congestion in the city.

11 July 2003

The LRTA's Development Officer comments

On one hand it seems that the Government is slipping back into its belief that buses can do everything and that transport problems can be solved on the cheap, while on the other hand there seems to be a danger of Municipal aggrandisement overriding real transport needs.

The transport problems of a city like Birmingham cannot be solved by buses alone and as government commissioned studies have shown that in the long run there is little difference in costs between modes the bus based option can only be seen as a short term money saving option. In addition the failure to continue extending the Midland Metro will prevent it being used relieve pressure on the currently overcrowded New Street station which may well incur even greater costs in the future.

As for the Underground suggestion, while a case for putting parts of the Midland Metro underground can be made (and this was part of the original plan) desiring an Underground system because 'Birmingham is the only European city of comparable size that hasn't got an underground system' is not the best reason. One needs to balance the advantage of speed especially for cross-city travellers against the visibility and convenience for short distance passengers. The old advertising slogan (for shaving soap I believe) 'Not too little - Not too much - but just right' might be considered appropriate for this situation.


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